Army Ties Loom Large As Peru's New President Veers Rightward

Analysis: A crackdown on anti-mining protestors and the recent appointment of a retired army man as prime minister have some observers warning that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who was elected on a progressive platform, is “militarizing” the governm

Humala must work to regain his popular appeal with the masses
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala in October, 2011.
Luis Felipe Gamarr

LIMA Just six months into his presidency, Peru's Ollanta Humala has already taken a sledgehammer to his political orchestra, replacing the conductor – Prime Minister Salomón Lerner – along with about half the would-be musicians. The question now is what kind of tune the recently-elected president plans to play in the coming months and years.

In mid-December, Humala designated Óscar Valdés, his former army instructor, as prime minister following Lerner's resignation. Valdés, a businessman and retired military official, had previously served as interior minister. For some analysts, the move was evidence Humala – himself a former army officer – is shifting right and "militarizing" his government.

Indeed, the tendency contrasts sharply with the center-left platform on which the president built his electoral campaign.

The new prime minister quickly made a point of saying the government's ‘road map" will remain the same. It's evident, however, that Valdés brings a new tone to the position. He has already, for example, given the other ministers careful orders about how and when to speak to the press. Valdés may be officially retired from the army, but he exudes a military style that some in Peru – where the armed forces are forever keen to recover a greater political role – find troubling.

The only person who really benefits from the situation, according to Henry Pease-García, a political science professor at Peru's Universidad Catolica, is Humala himself. By replacing so many of his ministers with undersecretaries, the president has consolidated power. Professor Pease-García says most government cabinet members are centrist technocrats, more business mangers than ideologues. That means that from here on out, "politics will the domain of the president," Prime Minster Valdés has said

Humala's cabinet shake-up came just days after he declared a 60-day state of emergency to clamp down on anti-mining protests in the Cajamarca region of northern Peru. He is by no means the first Peruvian president to turn to the "Socratic Guardians of the Republic," as Humala recently called the army, to impose unpopular investment projects. In this case, the hotly debated project is a $4.8-billion gold and copper mine being planned by Newmont Mining, a U.S. firm based in Denver, Colorado.

Losing friends in congress

According to Cynthia Sanborn, a researcher at the Universidad del Pacífico, Humala risks alienating his natural allies on the left, and may soon find himself with few friends in Congress. Without support there, he will have serious trouble pushing through his so-called "gran transformación" (great transformation) scheme, a series of social programs Humala promised as a way to combat extreme poverty and reduce the country's notoriously wide income gap.

Humala's recent moves have earned applause from business circles. And they may help him woo a bit of support from the conservative opposition. But they put him squarely at odds with ex-President Alejandro Toledo's centrist Perú Posible party, which lost all of its representation in the government cabinet of ministers.

With gold, copper and silver prices expected to remain high this year, the Humala administration will no doubt continue throwing its lot in with major mining interests. If the Valdés-controlled cabinet doesn't push for a combination of public policies to benefit the poor, the coming year will set the stage for yet another Peruvian presidency focused more on economic growth than on reducing the country's gaping economic inequality. And if this administration can't change course in that respect, there's even less chance its eventual replacement will do so.

Humala has already demonstrated that he's no Hugo Chávez, as we feared he might be. But he's also shown that he's no Lula da Silva, which was the great promise.

Read more from AméricaEconomía in Spanish

Photo - Presidencia Perú

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Why Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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